Kindness as Medicine

Your doctor is likely the central figure in your healthcare.  Along with his or her team of nurses and other medical staff, you are likely grateful for all of them for the care you receive.  You know you wouldn’t be as healthy as you are without them.

Your family, friends and perhaps spouse or partner are likely the central figures in your happiness.  Along with an extended family and perhaps an extended circle of friends, you are likely grateful to them for the companionship you receive.  You know you wouldn’t be as happy without them.

Time and again, multiple studies have borne out the important link between good health and strong social connections.  The more connected we are, the greater the chance we are healthy.  Married people live longer; this has been documented in many studies as well.

We all need each other.  We need our doctors and nurses.  We need our families and friends.  We need our children and our spouses or partners.  We even need those people out there we don’t know.  We depend on the rest of society to fill the needs we can’t fill ourselves, from farmers who grow our food to teachers who educate our children, from grocery store personnel to automakers.

Any of us who think we can make it on our own likely haven’t tried.

So what does this have to do with our health?  If we do it right, social interaction has a lot of benefits for us.

Humans are wired to be social.  We are supposed to be interdependent.  We are designed to have social relationships, and when we do, we are better for it.

None of us would be here without a relationship between our parents.  Then, as a baby, we were cared for by our parents.  Human infants are the most helpless of all creatures; we require the most care and nurturing of any species.   Cattle and horses are born standing up and ready to move.  They still need care, but all other species are much less dependent than humans when it comes to requiring care from other creatures in their species.

We need our families to teach us language and social skills.  We need our friends to show us we are loved by someone other than those who have known us since we were born.  Without this interaction, loneliness takes over.

As we age, we develop our own unique personalities and styles of interaction.  Ours are likely different from everyone else’s; that is what makes us unique.  It is what makes the world go round, as the saying goes.

With these differences can come conflict.  Realizing that our way is simply that:  our way, and others have their own way too is a crucial step to interacting in peace and harmony.  There’s no good guy, no bad guy, just differences.

Respecting these differences is crucial for our society.  We must get along with others whose opinions and styles of interacting may not hurt us, but may not please us either.

Let it be.

Kindness is a virtue. It is also a necessary part of human interaction.  Kindness is a force that benefits not only the recipient, but the giver as well.  Perhaps it benefits the giver on an even deeper level.

Consider the recent spate of natural disasters that have befallen our country:  Hurricanes, earthquakes and most recently, wildfires.  Thousands of people who were not directly affected volunteered their time, energy and money to help out those who were directly affected.  They gave unselfishly, and asked for nothing in return.  Most volunteers get what they want out of the volunteering situation:  a sense of satisfaction for having helped someone who was in need.  They feel fulfilled, and the victims feel the care and support they provided.

A recent interview with many of these volunteers produced a unified answer along those lines:  they volunteer because it makes them feel good.  They connect with those who are suffering, and both sides come out of it feeling better.

They needed each other.

More profoundly, the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas has highlighted the best of human interactions in the worst of times.  Multiple stories of strangers helping victims surfaced in the days after the tragedy.  These thousands of people who, only moments before the shooting, were unified only by their love of country music, came together to help each other in this horrific crisis. It was seemingly instinctual.  Some of them sacrificed their own safety to provide safety for others, some of them sacrificed their lives.

They needed each other.

Many of us will likely never provide that kind of life-saving assistance.  At least not on that level.

Every day, however, we all have the opportunity to provide kindness in our everyday interactions.  It can be the simplest of gestures, but it means more than we likely know.  Finding these opportunities doesn’t take much looking; it can be so very simple.  Consider these chances to make a difference:

  • Smiling at a stranger.
  • Holding the door for the person behind you.
  • Letting someone else go in line in front of you.
  • Bringing someone’s newspaper to their porch from the sidewalk.
  • Paying for someone’s meal in line behind you.
  • Sending a thank you note—on paper—in the mail for the last gift you received.
  • Sending a kind note for no particular reason.
  • Thanking a soldier in uniform for their services and sacrifices.
  • Babysitting your neighbors kids so they can have a few hours alone.
  • Delivering baked goods to someone who is struggling.
  • Sending a sympathy note to someone grieving, no matter how long ago it was.
  • Compliment a child on their manners in public so the parents can hear.
  • Visit a nursing home and ask to see someone who doesn’t get much company.
  • Bring your pet to that nursing home—with their permission.
  • Buy a cheap bouquet of flowers and take it to someone in the hospital.
  • Let that car creep in line in front of you in the traffic jam.

There are thousands more, just keep your eyes open for the opportunity.

If kindness were practiced in a very specific way, at least one time each day, by every person, the world would change–for the better.  We would be happier, and for the purposes of this post, healthier.  Happier people are healthier.

Start with you—today.  Share the kindness in small ways throughout your day.  You will feel a lift in your heart, and the world will be a tiny bit healthier for it.